Tag Archive | Nanzhila Plains

Bush Trade

In our pre-trip reconnaissance, it became abundantly clear that the better traveled Mfuwe/South Luangwa park area saw many more visitors, and organizations were better organized in getting support for schools, clinics and other projects. The Kafue park, neglected by the government for decades, has fewer facilities within the park. And, the philanthropic efforts supporting people in the area are not as evident on the Internet.

We connected with folks at the Kafue Trust, and offered to bring something small in size, but would still help support a camp endeavor. We also offered to bring something still small, but possibly more expensive, with the understanding that we be reimbursed. After several e-mails back and forth, we agreed to bring an infrared, motion-detecting camera for the Nanzhila Plains camp. (This was just one more item that TSA ignored in our bags.) The camera would catch nocturnal camp visitors on the prowl – often only detected by their tracks the morning after.

We presented the camera to Brad and Ruth. Brad, the gadget guy, couldn’t wait to get it up and running. Rather than be reimbursed in dollars or kwacha, we graciously accepted an offered trade: dinner, and an overnight stay in one of the camp’s chalets. We had a delightful dinner with our hosts, hearing tales of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and the local issues in the Kafue area. Truth be told, I think we got the better end of the bargain.

We reluctantly ended the evening – this was our last night at Nanzhila, with several hours of road, plus a fuel stop, ahead of us to our next camp. The tink tink tink of the reed frogs lulled us to sleep as we wondered what the next day would bring.


Seeing Wildlife – Steve’s 2-cents

P1000112Would we be able to see game when out on our own? That was the huge question when we decided to self drive. When staying at a safari camp the guides are in the same area day in, day out…they know where everything wanders. And guides communicate; their experience is compounded. So would we see anything or would we blunder past two ton elephants hiding behind three-foot bushes? Lions were the litmus test; lions are hard to see even with guides. We did see game, lots of it. And we did spot lions and elephants. And, I AM CERTAIN we drove right past elephants hiding, cheetahs lounging, wild dogs nipping.

In retrospect: I think we would have seen more game if we had stayed at lodges, but we would have had to give up freedom and high adventure. We saw A LOT of game AND we had a lot of freedom and adventure.


Kafue Tracks

For the next two days, we literally cruised the park at about 20 kilometers per hour. The southern section of Kafue has woodlands punctuated by great alleys of open plains, some dotted by waterholes and marshy areas. The southern end of the park is known for cheetahs and wild dogs, who do well with plenty of room to run, but we didn’t spot either of these iconic species.

We got up early each morning, armed with the thermos of coffee made at dinner the night before. Because of our up-and-out routine, we snacked on rusks (a heartier South African version of biscotti) and granola bars. Since we packed everything up every morning, our plan was to pause mid morning for a more substantial brunch – a bush camp custom.

The mornings were cool and mercifully fly-free. We were able to cruise the first few hours in the morning with windows down, catching the morning sounds. Unfortunately, as the day warmed, so did the flies, and we soon found ourselves back to windows up and air conditioning on. We even tried the routine of stopping the vehicle for five minutes, with the engine off, before emerging from the rover, but the flies that followed us just hung out on the car until we emerged. So much for cooking brunch – just unwrap another granola bar.

The first full day in the park, Steve drove while I passed food and drinks and watched for wildlife. As I spotted something, I was shrieking, “STOP!” intermittently all day. I resorted to shrieking for several reasons: Steve’s hearing is not good, and with the steering wheel on the right, I am sitting next to his “bad” ear. But, anyone would have a problem hearing over the diesel motor, the air conditioner fan, and all the shaking and rattling of the rover and it’s contents. Polite conversation is just not possible.

Steve’s eyes are much better than mine at spotting game, and his suspicious eyes spotted 3 lionesses peering at us across a drainage. They gazed at us with that lion-intense stare, “Are you something to eat?” We also saw new antelopes to us: roan, sable, oribi, reedbuck, waterbuck, hartebeast and puku. This was in addition to zebra, wildebeast, warthogs, hyena, baboons, vervet monkeys, impala and kudu, and a big range of birds.

The second day I took a turn at the wheel. Driving on the left was not a challenge since it was a single track, but sitting on the right side with the steering wheel was a little odd. The tendency is to drive too far left, and after whacking the bull bars a few times with small bushes on the left, I started to get the hang of it. The other challenge was driving in the soft sand, and learning to let the tracks steer the car rather than trying to completely control the wheel.

Each night, our rooftop tent is a restful retreat, set up with a foam mattress, sheets, pillows and pillow cases and a duvet. The tent sets up and folds down remarkably quickly and easily, and miraculously, the cover keeps out all the dust. I can’t say the same for the rest of the rover: the passengers and contents are covered with dust. But, we sleep soundly each night, falling asleep to the tink tink tink call of the reed frog chorus.

In the Park

We’re here! Our gravel road has turned into a single vehicle track, and the dry weather allows us to drive the more scenic road along the river and the eastern edge of the park. We’re anxious to start spotting wildlife – it’s one of the biggest reasons we are here.

As we cruise north, we do spot some birds and animals. But, as we leave the last human settlements, we find that the most abundant wildlife are tsetse flies. They are persistent, voracious, and hard to kill. I got a few bites, but they found Steve irresistible. We quickly retreated behind rolled up windows and air conditioning, spending the next few kilometers smashing the flies trapped in the car. Simply smacking them only stuns them, so that they drop to the floor to regain their senses enough to bite feet and ankles. Smashing, crushing and stomping are required. They are relatively slow-moving as far as flies go, and we discovered that our field guides and journals worked best as fly swatters.

We arrived at Nanzhila Plains Safari Camp about mid afternoon. We were greeted by our hostess, Ruth, who urged us to abandon our fly-riddled vehicle for the boma, overlooking a dambo, and miraculously fly-free. It’s hot outside of the air conditioning and the cold drink Ruth offers goes down easily.

In quick succession, we see the arrival of Ruth’s husband, Brad, and then Vivienne and Tom Heineken, our would-be hosts at our next camp, Kaingu. Tom and Viv are traveling to Johannesburg, and stopped at Nanzhila Plains on their way out of Kafue. They asked if we could deliver a key and 20 liters of petrol when we travel to Kaingu in three days. We agreed, becoming part of the bush delivery network.

Soon after, two British couples arrived, having traveled south to spend the night in Nanzhila’s chalets. They were also self-driving, but it was clear that at least half of their group were having serious problems with tsetse fly bites. We were told that if we stay out of the trees we should be able to stay out of the flies. That seemed to be true as we watched a pair of waddled cranes dance their courting dance and the kingfishers hunt at the edge of the dambo.

The big news of the camp was that a pair of lions had been through the previous night, walking right through the camp. Just what I worried about most: trying to cook and eat dinner at dusk, only to have lions stroll into the area – oh boy!

We headed over to our campsite as the sun was beginning to sink into the horizon. Steve wanted to go out driving again. But, I took one look at the lion tracks all over our campsite and decided I’d rather get all the cooking and bucket showering done before dark.

The camp staff built a fire and put on a bucket of water to warm for our showers. I rummaged through all the camping gear, trying to find things I needed, looking back over my shoulder every 10-15 seconds. We had a simple dinner: potatoes wrapped in foil and tucked in the coals, green beans and onions in a small cast iron casserole, and two steaks. Steve showered while I put things together, and I showered while Steve grilled the steaks.

It was dark when we finished, and Steve napped in his camp chair while I cleaned up and washed dishes. By now, I had somewhat relaxed, possibly aided by my pre-dinner gin and tonic. There were other campers in the two adjoining sites, so I hoped that all the activity would keep the lions away – if they were even still in the area.

I hoped for lions after we were safely tucked into our rooftop tent. Steve woke me sometime later that night from a dead sleep to the neighborly howling of a hyena. I was awake the rest of the night, listening for critters prowling under our tent.